The Extraordinary Artistry of Technical Writing

When you modify “writing” with an adjective like “technical,” it seems an unlikely combination.  Yet, they fit together in a magical way, only we who have practiced this craft for a while understand.  Those new to the art struggle to grasp the artistry angle because it is not found in any off-the-shelf training course.

Motivating purpose

Knowing the motive underlying the writing helps.  It is always important to state it clearly and get agreement before you begin.  Without the purpose you are just writing in circles.

For example, if you are writing to remediate behavioural errors or to encourage a new way of working, there are different ways to approach the body of work.  If you are writing to substantiate auditable process or test some new ideas, the motive of your task will also set the tone and your approach.

Audience

One of the most valuable lessons shared with me was to write to only one person at a time, to see that person and appreciate their position in reading what you are writing. 

You can do this by asking others about those who will utilise your work or best of all, you can take time to meet with several of them, if time allows.  Listen carefully as they share how they manage new instruction, whether they are fatigued with too much change or unaware of the need and motive for new documents.

Time

Time is always a difficult challenge.  Everyone is in a rush nowadays.  Although technical writing cannot be likened to painting the Sistine Chapel, it does take more time in combining the “soft” information (motive, audience, feedback, etc.) with the edgy reality of accurate and concise information. 

Yet, it takes time to change, so you must take time to ensure there is no “friction” in what you write.  If you do not it easily can provide reasons and excuses to resist embracing the new way of understanding something familiar. 

NOTE:  Friction is anything that might slow down or stop your reader.  Friction includes making something too complicated, convoluted, or wordy.  Not checking for accuracy and sensibility of the process (see “A Secret” below), misspellings, using acronyms or words that no one is sure of.

Parameters and constraints

Every organisation requires you to respect their parameters of style and tradition.  There are always template constraints (even those you create) and editorial/ brand standards to be met.  Be sure you are a shining example of doing this with consistency. 

Remember, creativity is at its best when you learn how to work within set guidelines and maddening constraints to maximum effect.

Collaborators

Seeking the best subject matter experts is obviously important.  Yet sometimes this can be one of the greatest challenges you face.  Many subject matter experts are selected for you.  Many have at least half-dozen reasons to resist your probing for the truth, including fear they will be too easy to replace. 

Being able to “charm” reluctant individuals with the motivating purpose and benefits of having new documents will demonstrate your strength in creativity.

Mentors

Anyone who writes alone is foolish (that is my opinion, and I’m sticking to it because it has proven me right too many times).  We all find a bit of sensitivity crops up in our hearts as we write.  Having someone to bounce ideas off, who will read your work with care and candour (before it is released to the wider audience) will serve you a million times over.

A Secret

Technical writers who are also “closet” analysts have a secret.  It gives them a significant advantage when writing any type of document.  Why?  Because they know how to unravel the fine threads of any process, procedure or written information.  They can follow the reasoning and logic through with child-like innocence — and correct it where necessary for the benefit of the ultimate reader.